The Duke’s Sons, Book 4
Heat Factor: Some sparks
Character Chemistry: Excellent repartee
Plot Development: Good house party, with a little bit of nonsense
Overall: Enjoyable but not amazing
I grabbed this book for my still half-baked Duke Project, and man, is this a case of false advertising. With a title of Nothing Like a Duke, I expected the subtext to be THERE’s nothing like a Duke, but really it seems to be that HE’s nothing like a Duke, despite his father’s lofty title. So, not an excellent addition to my very scientific study of Dukedom, besides the fact that Dukes sell, even if there’s not even really a Duke in the story.
This book, the fourth in The Duke’s Sons series, follows Robert, who decides to go to a house party. He has been mooning after Flora, a scholar’s daughter, and a frivolous house party seems like just the ticket to forgetting her. However, Flora shows up at the very same house party, which is surprising, because she’s not really part of the ton. In fact, she thinks that nobles are hopeless snobs and not worth much. In the course of the house party, they reaffirm that they are, in fact, in love, and that she will enter his world, just as he had previous entered hers, when he spent months and months studying Akkadian with her to get into her pants.
Now, I know that I generally write about books with completely bonkers plots, but I do love a good house party. I like the the plot tends to be small – it’s just people talking, but there are all kinds of undercurrents. A key to a good house party plot is great conversations, and Ashford really excels here. Flora and Robert are funny and interesting. There is also some low-stakes conflict, in the form of a young debutante who has decided that Robert is her one true love, based on things he said to be polite that he has no memory of whatsoever. Her machinations to get close to Robert and denigrate Flora are ridiculous and ham-handed, and therefore entertaining to read about (if cringe-worthy to actually sit through).
While Robert and Flora have excellent conversation, their physical chemistry is not amazing. Put another way, Ashford does not focus on the physical component of their relationship in her writing. Here is the scene where they have sex, for the first and last time, in its entirety:
She pulled him down with her, and Robert’s scruples flamed to ash in a welter of tenderness and desire. He touched her the way he’d been dreaming of doing – forever, it seemed. Fingertips to silken skin, lips trailing kisses, he did everything he knew to make certain her pleasure was as incandescent as his. He took it as a triumph when she cried out in release and entered her with every bit of care and control he could muster. She hesitated only briefly. Then their bodies’ rhythm caught and meshed and mounted in tandem. Release took him by a storm.
I read that, and was like, wait, did they just have sex? Yes, yes they did. Well, that was abrupt – just a second ago they were having some nice but not very sensual kisses.
One thing that I appreciated is that this book is really about the growth of Flora. She has to battle her preconceived notions about the way certain people are (she thinks that the ton are flippant and/or selfish people because of the way her mother was treated after marrying down) to discover that people are just people. And she gets over her whining about not fitting in – just as Robert spent time (alluded to but never shown) showing that he could fit in her world of scholarship, this becomes a test to see if Flora can fit into his world of society, and she discovers she can while also maintaining her both integrity and her personality. The way she goes about it is explicitly analytical – the narrative voice states that Flora will approach this problem just like she approaches any other, with a clear mind and close attention to detail.
My main problem with this book is that a lot of their relationship seemed to have been developed in a previous book in the series, so you’re kind of just dumped right in the middle of things. Generally, I don’t mind if there’s a bit of backstory you don’t already know, but in this case, Robert has spent lots of time with Flora – basically courting her – as they studied together and argued about ancient linguistics or whatever. Also, he literally saved her when she was tied up and left in a basement. And there’s all this backstory about a murder and some charitable work that she does, that is hinted at in terms of the threatening villain Durand. So it felt like this book couldn’t really stand alone.
Furthermore, the threat the Ashford builds is incoherent. Durand goes around making some petty threats. He’s going to say that Flora is ruined, because he can. He’s going to do… something… to Robert, because Robert’s father is evil. Maybe he’ll figure out that Flora knows something about the person who murdered his friend, but this potential strand of plot goes nowhere. Ok, fine. Robert and Flora expose him as a cheat. Great! And then – spoiler alert – in the very last chapter, he tries to kidnap Flora, but fails. What? Also, Robert is the son of a Duke, so what can Durand really do to him? Even if he smears Flora, if she’s married to Robert, who is going to care?
To conclude, I want to return to the issue raised by the title. Robert’s main moment of growth occurs when he realizes that he’s like a Duke after all, because of his sense of honor. The problem with this whole set up as a moment of growth is that… no one ever says that Robert is nothing like a Duke. It’s not even really implied, either by other characters or in any of the internal monologues that we witness. Yes, he’s frivolous – but really, that means that he’s socially adept, which, one would think, would be a good trait for a Duke to have.
Granted, the other entries for the Duke Project so far have not made a great case for social niceties being a core skill for a desirable Duke. If anyone knows of one, let me know!
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